Freezing Temps–Fired Up Dogs!
It’s Monday night at 10pm or so and it’s already -6F air temp with windchill of -25F. Today’s temps dropped like a rock and it was 0F by this afternoon. We are lucky that these temps are only going to last another day and a half or so before they rebound to normal level but it will still be chilly for the next couple months (though hopefully not this chilly again). I don’t know about you but winter time is always a really challenging time for my dogs.
The days are incredibly short, so even when it’s not freezing cold, it is dark when I wake up and dark by 4pm so there isn’t lots of time to get the dogs out to really run. Since it’s dark so early in the morning and early in the afternoon, the temperatures plummet as soon as the sun goes down so even with “balmy” 30 degree temperatures during the early afternoon, those temps can drop off to the low teens in the mornings and evenings. These temperatures and short days really prevent dogs from getting the same amount of exercise and stimulation that they both need and have come accustomed to. This can lead to some serious cabin fever that manifests as destruction of property, anxiety, increased vocalizations, rowdy behavior, suddenly not responding to cues, hyperactivity, and general wild behavior.
Staying warm, especially the next 36 hours or so, is of extreme importance but making sure your pup gets some exercise and mental stimulation is also important for their well being (and for your own sanity). Here are some of my favorite indoor activities for exercising my dogs’ bodies and brains!
Stability Ball/Peanut/Balance Disc Exercises
I frequently have the dogs earn their kibble meals while “working out” on equipment like FitPaws Peanut, stability balls, balance discs, and FitPods. I sort of describe these exercises as like pilates or yoga–they are not high impact or high arousal but they are exhausting physically and mentally. Your dogs have to concentrate really hard to keep their balance on the pieces of equipment while their large muscle groups work hard to hold positions on the unstable equipment, stretch up and down, and change positions. Their muscles also do lots of rapid-fire small adjustments to tiny shifts in balance. It takes some time to build up endurance for balance work (so they aren’t sore the following day) but it’s a great way to really burn some energy, both mental and physical.
If you have carpeted stairs, and a dog who loves to fetch, another way to burn some energy is to play fetch up and down the stairs over and over and over and over and over again. The up and down stairs move tires out dogs quicker than fetch in the yard would because of the energy dogs use to climb stairs and the incline/decline work that the dog does. If your stairs are not carpeted, you can modify the game a bit to make it safer for your dog. Instead of freely letting your dog rush up and down the stairs, if you restrain the dog while you throw the ball and then release them after the ball has slowed down or is stationary, your pup will likely retrieve the ball with less “umph”/enthusiasm/speed and thus be a bit safer on the way up and down.
Puzzle Toys/Kibble Dispensing Toys
Working your dog’s brain can be one of the easiest ways to soothe cabin fever with your dog. If their brains are tired, their bodies will be able to settle more easily. Mentally tired dogs are also less likely to be destructive, or overly busy because their brains need a break and need a rest so their body will follow suit. If my dogs aren’t earning their meals through training, they are earning their meals with either a puzzle toy (like pictured to the left) or a kibble dispensing toy. Puzzle toys require interaction/refilling by the human but kibble dispensing toys can simply be filled and put down for your dog to do independently. Both of these toys require a dog’s brain and body to work so both of them are being tired out, even if it doesn’t look overly exhausting. Some of my favorite interactive puzzle toys are the Nina Ottosson puzzle toys (pretty much any of them) and the less expensive Kyjen toys. For kibble dispensing toys some of my favorites are the I.Q. Treat Ball, Atomic Treat Ball, Buster Cube, Kong Wobbler, holee-treat ball, and homemade toys like empty gatorade bottles.
Many of the tricks that I train are pretty physical in nature. The process of teaching and practicing these tricks is both physically and mentally tiring for the dogs. 10 minutes of trick training with some physical tricks and my dogs are panting and ready for a break. Training things like position changes (sit to down, down to sit, sit to stand, etc), spin (both directions), rollover, sit pretty, back up, take a bow, handstands, going up stairs backwards, hop-up on things, etc. are all things that can be very physically demanding and tiring for dogs. Since they are also having to use their brain to learn the tricks, they are also burning lots of mental energy!
With two people, indoor recalls can be the most fun game ever–even better if you live in a home with more than 1 story. Have one person stationed in one room in the house and a second person in another room on the other side of the house (and more people if you have them). Practice calling your dog from one end of the house to the other with your recall word and lots of treats! If you happen to have a flight of stairs or two in between, even better!
Playing tug with dogs is a great way to burn some excess energy! As long as you follow some basic rules about the game, it really is a productive game in both training and simply burning energy. Dogs need to know that people will start the game, that they NEED to keep their teeth to themselves, that they need to drop the tug when asked, and they need to not go for the tug until given permission. Tug works a dog’s body, kind of like weight lifting. Short bursts of intense power and energy use leave dogs feeling tired and fulfilled. I find that using tug to work on impulse control work actually makes dogs tired more quickly when playing the game. I will dangle the tug in front of the dogs, drag it on the ground or otherwise make it look enticing but the dogs must control themselves and no go for the tug until they are given the okay to do so. This impulse control work can absolutely tire out a dog because they have to work really hard to control their impulses!
There are not many things my dogs love more than playing nose games. We play these games year round but the results are always the same–a mentally and physically tired dog! In the winter time, my dogs have expanded to having searches that take up the entire first floor of our house finding the one box with food hidden in it or I’ll take one of their toys and hide it out of sight for them to find somewhere in the house. I started with much easier searches but even easy searches are making dogs flex their mental muscle and their physical muscles. Enjoy an older (and WARMER) video of Shayne doing a nosework search outside…
GO TO SCHOOL!
Last, but not least, getting your pup into a training class is another great way to mentally and physically exercise your dog, all in the warm of a training school facility!
It is harder in the winter and certainly even more challenging in these freezing temps, but it’s incredibly important to make sure your pup is getting the mental and physical exercise they need to prevent any number of behavior problems or just simply to prevent cabin fever from setting in.